Networks Back Obama 'Replay' on Infrastructure

Just like in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray wakes up to the same day each and every morning, it appears Americans will feel a frustrating sense of déjà vu listening to President Obama's jobs speech on Sept. 8.

According to Bloomberg, Obama's not-so-new plan "follows the contours of his $830 billion 2009 economic stimulus package." This time around, Obama will call for $300 billion for tax breaks and infrastructure spending. Never mind that the first one didn't work as promised. Meanwhile, the network news media are treating the ideas from his speech like new solutions, instead of more of the same.



In just the past week, the three broadcast networks have mentioned infrastructure in nine news stories. ABC's Jim Avila even promoted the call for World War II-level spending in one report.

Yet not a single one of those reports reminded viewers that Obama already invested billions in infrastructure. They should remember that since the same networks had aired 76 stories about infrastructure and the stimulus between Obama's election and Feb. 13, 2009 (when the stimulus bill passed).

On Sept. 5, 2011, ahead of his jobs speech Obama said, "We've got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding … Let's put America back to work." Sound familiar?

Back in 2008 Obama said, "We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges." In fact, back then Obama said "we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s." Before inventing the meaningless "create or save" phrase, his administration said the stimulus package would create 2.5 million jobs. Net job losses since he took office are roughly 2.4 million.

In 2008 and early 2009, Obama and the complicit networks sold the stimulus bill to the public as an infrastructure package that "could put people to work immediately." Reporters talked about Obama's "new, New Deal" that would imitate the WPA of FDR.

As CBS's Chip Reid said on Dec. 14, 2008, "[A]s FDR did in the 1930s with the WPA, the new president's program starts with roads and highways and bridges." Others called infrastructure the "heart" of the stimulus package and news programs aired stories with cities or states desperate to claim federal monies for infrastructure projects.

Listening to Obama talk about how to create jobs is like listening to a broken record, the only difference is that broken records don't spend billions of taxpayer dollars on the same thing over and over without the promised results.

Sadly, the news reporting is on repeat too. Just like they have since 2008, the network news media continue to support the White House calls for stimulus. While ignoring the fact that Obama already spent billions to fix infrastructure, ABC's Jim Avila said on Sept. 2, "[W]hat can the government do? The nonpolitical overwhelming answer from a dominant majority of economists is spend and build: roads, bridges, schools."

Avila closed that "World News" report saying, "The debt, say most economists, is only a long-term concern and the US can borrow money right now at practically no interest but they should launch a stimulus program as big as the one that was launched in World War II."

Big Promises, Big Fiascos

Obama's New Deal cost nearly $800 billion and came with claims that jobs would start right away, 2.5 million jobs would be created in green industries and infrastructure (according to NBC) and the unemployment rate wouldn't go above 8 percent.

None of those things have panned out as the administration said they would, although the networks generally have ignored those embarrassing failures of the administration. The Business & Media Institute found that one year after the stimulus was passed, nearly half the network news stories had no criticism whatsoever and ABC, CBS and NBC were still favoring pro-stimulus spokesmen.

The infrastructure and construction jobs that were going to rescue the economy turned out not to happen so quickly. In fact, Obama laughed off the fact that "shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected" at a jobs summit in June 2011.

What about clean energy, solar panels and alternative energy jobs? As evidenced by recent print news coverage, green jobs "investments" by the government look like a great big waste now that many of the very companies touted by the Obama administration and visited by the president or vice president have gone out of business and even weatherization programs have fallen far short of the goals. Yet, the networks have barely noticed.

The administration insists that they've created 2.4 million to 3.6 million jobs with the 2009 stimulus bill. But this seems absurd when you examine payroll employment figures since February 2009. In that time, the net loss of jobs was more than 2.4 million (2,413,000 to be exact).

Even if the stimulus did create jobs, as the Obama administration and media have claimed, those "jobs aren't here to stay" according to CNNMoney. In Nov. 2009, David Goldman wrote that "stimulus may have created or saved 640,000 jobs so far, but many of these positions were never intended to last." Goldman pointed out that the jobs that were to be created by "shovel-ready" projects would end when the work was done or project ran out of funding.

The networks have continued to ignore Obama's most obvious broken promise about the stimulus bill: The administration's claim that with the huge infusion of taxpayer money unemployment would not rise above 8 percent. In his first month in office, the unemployment rate exceeded that figure. It climbed as high as 10.1 percent in Oct. 2009, before dropping to its current rate of 9.1 percent.

But a Special Report from the Business & Media Institute that examined all the evening news reports on the networks from Jan. 20, 2009, to Dec. 21, 2010, found that less than 2 percent (9 out of 589 stories) of stories mentioned Obama's 8 percent promise. Instead, networks called for even more stimulus.
 

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.